When Gartrell Johnson suits up in green and gold Saturday afternoon, runs through the cement tunnel leading to Sunny Lubick field and sets foot on the spongy turf, he will be doing it for the last time.
Now, on the eve of his final game at Hughes Stadium, the senior is completely focused on going out with a victory.
Johnson explained that he wants to say goodbye to his home for the past four years on a high note and said beating New Mexico would be a good start.
“It’d be huge,” the Florida native said. “It would be a good deal to win at home and go out with a win as a senior. We want to go out with a little swag and say something about us.”
Johnson has walked an up-and-down road while at CSU, one that has seen him moved in and out of the starting line up.
Johnson first saw substantial playing time in CSU’s backfield his sophomore season, stepping up as the Rams go-to running back after then starter Kyle Bell was sidelined with a knee injury.
Johnson began his junior season playing fullback, but once again made the jump to starting running back for the final six games of the year, ending with 957 yards on the ground.
The six-footer entered this season as the Rams’ undisputed starter and has filled the role nicely, posting 981 yards rushing and eight touchdowns through 10 games.
Bell credited Johnson for having a strong senior campaign, saying that they have both pushed each other to be better backs.
“Gartrell has had a really good year and caught fire at times,” he said. “That’s a credit to the competition we have had. I look back to early on in my career and I think one of the reasons I was able to have success is because he was right there pushing me. It kind of comes in reverse. We push each other and then he sort of rises. We have been a product of each others success.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Peterson explained that Johnson has brought so much more than talent to the Rams.
“He has done so many special things,” the first year CSU coach said. “First and foremost he has been a class young man and a good leader on and off the field. He’s come to work everyday with his hard hat and his lunch pail.”
Quarterback Billy Farris agreed.
“The way he runs and plays rubs off on everybody,” the first year CSU starter said. “His leadership has been really helpful to the team and it has helped us to keep going at times during games. Sometimes he will just get in there and yell and that really gets guys going.”
Johnson joined the Rams as a freshman, coming to CSU all the way from Dade County Fla., where he enjoyed a stellar high school career. The former all-state athlete explained that he has no regrets about coming to Fort Collins.
“I came in on a high note,” he said. “I’m happy where I’m at, I’m not content. You always want to be better but I’m happy things went down the way they did.”
Peterson said he wouldn’t mind having a whole team of players like Johnson and predicted the 22-year-old’s career wouldn’t end at the college level.
“He’s going to get a chance because he plays so hard,” Peterson said. “If he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’ll get an opportunity.”
Johnson can see his college career quickly approaching an end and takes pride that through all the highs and lows, he was able to play the game the way he wanted to play it – with heart and dedication.
“That’s what I wanted it to be,” he said. “I want people to look at me and say that I come out and work hard every day. I have fulfilled what I needed to do in that area. Now I just want to come out and win this week.”
Football beat reporter Adam Bohlmeyer can be reached at email@example.com.